Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Relearning Roots: Musings from the Bells Bend Intern

I remember the string beans hanging from my grandmother’s patio and her grin as she boasted of her fleshy tomatoes. She was a lady, but she snorted when she laughed. And I’m afraid that I take after her, snorting when I laugh and burning the green beans that I cook.

This year I spent a number of hours trellising beans that I had planted thinking they were bush beans. When they started to twist and turn, looking for a place to grow up, I realized I needed to get them some support. Trellising these beans was something of a milestone for me. I learned quickly that the wrong kind of trellis will not withstand the winds that blow through this holler. I learned about failure. And about picking up and trying again. And again. And maybe one more time. It may not sound like a difficult task, but my stubbornness and perfectionism often get in the way of making a task simple. And this is how I have spent much of the year, learning how to take on projects, learning how to screw them up and learning how to forgive mistakes and move forward.

As I clean up the garden from fall, I think of the ways that this space has changed since I first moved in. The garden has morphed each season. There were many fruitful crops, along with a fair share of failures.This six acre tract has also seen nearly 150 laying hens come and go, with the exception of one hen. One pretty awesome chick that I call Charlie. She squawks when I call her and sleeps on my back porch. She's a rather feisty independent hen that's up at the crack of dawn each morning, scratching and pecking. She's taught me a thing or two about the resilience of nature.

The seven months I've spent here have deepened my knowledge of nature and self, requiring me to grow outside my comfort. I had little gardening knowledge when I moved here. But, I recall the overwhelming sense of excitement as I had the challenge of learning a whole lot. I looked at this strange piece of land, not knowing how to tend it, yet feeling a huge sense of responsibility to it. I’d say it was then that I realized I was in over my head. But, perhaps, I already knew I was digging into a lifestyle that would require much more than I understood.

There is a reverence that comes when working with land and continually being present in nature. A reverence that I am not sure I have fully come into. There is the awe. The morning mist hitting my lip as I walk my way to the garden. And the birds that sing their way into the melody of the day. And there is the flesh of the ground, that which is forgiving to my step.

My journey to growing food started with a search for roots. I was wallowing in the quicksand of an existential crisis. I craved something beyond the life that media projects on us. I needed to tangibly experience my spirituality. Needed to grip and flesh, to grit and sink in the nature of existence. Simone Weil writes, “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” The are physical and emotional roots, ancestral and spiritual roots; I am in search of all.

Pa Bailey, my great-grandpa was a cowboy, a traveling salesman and when he settled down with his family, he was a sharecropper who played his fiddle at the local barn dances. Grandpa and Grandma Baker had a homestead in Franklin Co, and Grandpa was a farmer by vocation, but a mason by trade. And Great-Grandpa Clark grew up with his thirteen siblings on a 200 acre farm in Farris Chapel. My dad and his brother were cattle farmers early in their lives. And my Papa, their dad, said it was the best life there was. My family tended the land because it was a lifestyle, one they'd grown up with and one that sustained their lives. It was out of necessity that they relied on land.

A root is a telling sign of the health of the soil. The radishes that I tended this fall were not healthy. They split at the ends, looking as if they had legs, itching to run . Perhaps the human soul is the same. If her root hits some unexpected hardness, she will split, attempting to escape the hard ground of her confusion.

I am still searching for a grandmother’s wisdom to wash me clean from the dirt of ignorance. But, my grandmothers have passed. And I cannot pry into my grandmother's rich stories of life without wishing I could hear her laugh. And this is why I went seeking Mother Nature. She has allowed me to wallow in her flesh, in the dirt of my existence. She has pushed me from the edge of reality and planted me.


"There is no enlightenment outside of daily life."
Thich Nhat Hanh

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